5 Things You Need to Know About Allergies

There are many food allergy myths that need to be dispelled

By Ernst Lamothe Jr.

Allison Freeman, pediatric allergist and immunologist at the University at Buffalo Medical Department and Oishei Children’s Hospital.
Allison Freeman, pediatric allergist and immunologist at the University at Buffalo Medical Department and Oishei Children’s Hospital.

Food allergies can run the gamut and be quite complex. For some people, even a small amount of allergy-causing food causes a dramatic reaction to their digestive system. Food allergy affects an estimated 6–8 % of children younger than three, according to the Mayo Clinic.

“Food affects our bodies in various ways whether that is lactose intolerance or allergies,” said Allison Freeman, pediatric allergist and immunologist at the University at Buffalo Medical Department and Oishei Children’s Hospital. “However, there are many food allergy myths that also need to be dispelled.”

Here are five things you need to know about food allergies.

1. Some food allergies can be prevented.

In an effort to help prevent your child from being allergic to specific foods, medical officials said eggs and peanuts are two prime candidates. The key is introducing both early.

“Historically, many pediatricians believed that you should avoid eggs and peanuts. But, we were proven wrong. Now we suggest introducing both to babies at 4 to 6 months and even earlier if they are at high risk for allergies,” said Freeman, who is also a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at the University at Buffalo.

Whether that is taking scrambled eggs or a spoonful of watered down peanut butter, you can mix them with other foods. Babies who have moderate to significant eczema are examples of those who may be at high risk for allergies and can be considered for allergy testing first at age 4 months.

2. Food allergies are dangerous.

Food allergies are supposed to be taken seriously. Anaphylactic reactions have caused death in many including teens. That is the reason why it’s essential to be prepared with an epipen, used in emergencies to treat very serious allergic reactions to insect stings, bites, foods, drugs or other substances. Epinephrine acts quickly to improve breathing, stimulate the heart, raise a dropping blood pressure, reverse hives, and reduce swelling of the face, lips, and throat.

“We suggest that you become diligent in reading all food labels because there are foods that you wouldn’t think would have certain ingredients that may trigger anaphylactic shocks,” added Freeman.

3. Food oral immunotherapy is now available

Oral immunotherapy involves slowly giving an allergic individual an increasing amount of an allergen. For example, a person allergic to peanuts may be given very small amounts of peanut protein that would not trigger a reaction. This small amount is gradually increased in the allergist’s office or a clinical research setting over a period of months. The goal of therapy is to raise the threshold that may trigger a reaction and provide the allergic individual protection against accidental ingestion of the allergen.

“This was one of the therapies I brought to Buffalo and we have seen incredible advances in helping people who are allergic to all nuts, sesame seeds, eggs, wheat, milk and other food options,” said Freeman. “It’s important that people know that this therapy is not a curative therapy, but it can help prevent extreme reactions if you accidentally have something you are allergic to.”

4. It doesn’t eliminate you from getting the COVID-19 vaccine

Food allergy is not clearly linked to the very rare anaphylactic reactions to COVID-19 vaccine. That’s the reason why medical officials are educating people on why it doesn’t eliminate them from being vaccinated. In addition, patients with food allergies should still get vaccinated.

“There have been very few cases of anyone having a significant reaction to the vaccine. We can supervise the vaccinated person to see how they react,” said Freeman.

In addition, patients with other drug allergies should still get vaccinated and  patients with a history of vaccine allergy can consult with an allergist first if they wish.

5. Food allergy panels on blood or skin testing are not always helpful for screening purposes.

Many times when people feel like they have food allergies they may go to an allergist  who performs food panels to gauge what may trigger the reaction. However, experts believe food testing needs to be based on the history of exposure, the age of the patient and the types of foods in the diet already.

“With certain patients, you are not going to find out much. Migraines and headaches can be triggered by food, but those triggers are not found on allergy testing,” said Freeman.